By Andy Besent, Head of Sales – Jurys Inn and Leonardo Hotels UK & Ireland
Asking the question of how customers book hotels, and for what purpose, is a complex matrix of different journeys. Most hotels have a core base of customers that book stays either directly through a brand website, or via an Online Travel Agent (OTA) which packages up a visit with other travel requirements. Attracting customers to a brand website or via an OTA is generally the remit of the marketing and revenue departments within large hotel groups, who look after: building a brand, attracting customers to book, and setting the right rates versus the competition to deliver good hotel occupancy, and ultimately strong financial performance.
However, perhaps equally significant are the ‘managed segments’ which make up the other side of the hotel sales process. These managed segments include directly-contracted customer relationships and bookings that come via a variety of third-party agents, such as business travelers, meetings and events bookings, which are traditionally owned by the hotel sales team. Each individual hotel will have a desired mix of these segments depending on the location, type of property, size, competition, and the brand or product they represent.
The right skill-set
Effective hotel sales teams need to be focused on optimising the revenue generated from managed segments to support each hotel. This involves a broad set of tasks, especially within large multi-brand hotel groups. Therefore, the recipe for a successful hotel sales team is strong sales people with good market knowledge and commercial relationships, supported by clear data reporting and analytics tools to offer the ‘right’ customer the ‘right’ rate at the ‘right’ time.
Strong sales’ people are obviously central to this process. The landscape of selling across all industry sectors is changing, and with it so is the skill set required. Traditionally sales was primarily about cultivating strong relationships, and whilst this is still important, the hotel sales person of today requires a much more analytical mindset to handle the decision-making data, understand customer drivers, and add value to the sales process.
One of the biggest challenges for the hospitality sector today is recruiting, developing and retaining sales’ talent. Firstly, it is essential to offer ongoing professional training, and demonstrate a career pathway to sales employees. But beyond that, establishing the correct sales team structure is also crucial.
Roles and skill sets are different at a national and local level. Our approach is to use a local sales team on a cluster city or regional basis. These teams are focused on the local market, and building a network of SME business contracts is established as a key priority. They must also be linked into the local tourism organisations, and have a strong handle on infrastructure projects, as well as the sports and arts sectors to ensure they attract a fair share of this business. It is also expected that these teams can help to drive national sales performance by harnessing local intelligence on the large corporate businesses that reside in their locale.
It is also critical that the Sales & Revenue teams are closely aligned to ensure that the sales team is driving the right business at the right rate. With such a varied route to market for hotel bookings, it is key that the sales team understands the profitability of the business they bring, and the cost of sale of each distribution channel. In today’s world of online bookings, savvy customers will always search for the best rate, so understanding what rate you are selling on which tool, and how this impacts customer choice, has never been more important.
Ultimately, driving hotel sales effectively, both nationally and regionally, is a fine balancing act, and ensuring that you have the right people, a clear structure, and a fully integrated team is critically important if you want to deliver success.